Wed, Dec 11, 2019

Rivalry week in college football is in the books. So, too, is the regular season. All that’s left now are the conference championship games — the gateway to the College Football Playoff. And with the season wrapping up, there’s a lot we’ve learned about teams like Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma, all of whom were vying for a spot heading into Saturday. 

Weeks like these always lead to overreactions, and that’s OK. We are creatures of the moment. Overreactions are just as much a part of the game as touchdowns. So with Saturday’s action in the books, let’s look at the biggest overreactions from the action and how absurd — or completely warranted — they might be.  

This was the most undisciplined game in Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama: We can’t act like No. 5 Alabama’s never committed a penalty before, but 13 flags for 96 yards in a 48-45 loss to No. 15 Auburn in the Iron Bowl is an awful lot. Several of those flags results in first downs for the Tigers, including the game-deciding illegal substitution penalty. In fact, Auburn basically baited Alabama into that penalty by showing a different formation. It’s not often Saban gets one-upped situationally, but he did there. Add on the missed field goal that would have tied the game and Mac Jones‘ two pick sixes, and that was as sloppy of a game as Bama has played since Saban arrived. It happens to the best of them — the 2013 Iron Bowl certainly had its memorable shortcomings — but that was an awful time to be completely unprepared. 

Jim Harbaugh isn’t getting it done at Michigan: This is a complex situation, but I disagree with the statement even after a 56-27 loss to No. 1 Ohio State. He’s doing quite well at Michigan. He’s 47-17 in five years. That’s almost 9.5 wins a season. He’s hit the 10-win mark three times (and can do it a fourth time this year) and his floor has been eight wins. The knock is his record against Ohio State, which is a resounding 0-5. What’s the solution? You don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Harbaugh absolutely needs to change the way he recruits defensively — Ohio State’s offensive speed has been too much  — but Harbaugh can get it done if he makes the proper adjustments. (Ask LSU about its Alabama problem.) Ohio State is simply on another level right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to fire Harbaugh. 

Ohio State is in the playoff regardless of the Big Ten Championship Game result: I’d say so with a rematch coming up against No. 12 Wisconsin. There are few guarantees with playoff standings, but I’d venture to guess the Buckeyes and No. 2 LSU are the most secure next week. At worst, Ohio State will have split two games with Wisconsin, which won the Big Ten West with a 38-17 win over No. 8 Minnesota. The Badgers should be a top-10 team come next week and the Buckeyes already laid waste to them earlier this season. 

But nobody respects Clemson in the playoff race: Laughable, but let’s also be clear about Dabo Swinney’s comments after dismantling South Carolina 38-3. Indicating that the playoff selection committee doesn’t “want us in there anyway” with a loss is for effect. It’s for his players, not the rest of us. When you’ve won 27 games in a row, you have to find something to give you an edge. Granted, Swinney has a point about one-loss teams being forgiven when Clemson’s margin for error appears to be so small. But that’s a byproduct of schedule strength — which Clemson can’t always control. The ACC is average at best and Texas A&M turned out to be a dud. Not the Tigers’ fault, but it is the reality of the situation. However, your path does not determine how good your team is, and Clemson is ridiculously good. No one reasonably thinks otherwise. 

Georgia doesn’t stand a chance against LSU: The fourth-ranked Bulldogs will definitely need a lights-out game from their defense to beat No. 2 LSU in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia will be without leading wideout Lawrence Cager (ankle) and second-leading pass-catcher George Pickens (suspension for fighting) for the first half. Running back D’Andre Swift is said to be “fine” after suffering a shoulder contusion against Georgia Tech, but his health is something to monitor. Either Georgia wins in a rock fight where first one to 20 wins or this one gets out of hand quickly. 

Utah is Team No. 4: I know we have a week to go. Conference championships will either make things clear or dissolve everything into madness. That goes without saying. But if you’re asking me today, Utah is good enough to get that fourth spot. With a 45-15 win over Colorado, the Utes have won seven of eight conference games by an average of 32 points and are +225 in point differential in conference play. Now, the flip side: the schedule isn’t the strongest — the best win is at 7-5 Washington — but you can’t say they haven’t done everything asked of them. 

Oklahoma won’t beat Baylor twice: Early lines have the Sooners as about a touchdown favorite in the Big 12 Championship Game. I’d be tempted to take the Bears on the money line. Why? It’s hard to beat the same team twice and Baylor has been locked in since losing to the Sooners earlier this month. Granted, both teams played well on Saturday in wins. I’ve actually been impressed with the Sooners’ defense over the last few weeks. It came up huge in the second half of the first game against Baylor, was excellent against Oklahoma State on Saturday and has probably bailed out the offense more in the past month than people realize. But Baylor could have — should have — won the first edition and is such a well-rounded team. Maybe even more so than Oklahoma. The rematch should be tons of fun. 

Lynn Bowden is the SEC’s “other” offensive MVP: Yes, I know LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is going to win all the awards, but let’s just give kudos to Bowden (and Kentucky’s offensive staff for a minute). Bowden, a wide receiver by trade, set the conference’s single-game rushing record for a quarterback (284 yards) in a 45-13 win over Louisville. That the Wildcats have won seven games while completely changing their offense due to injury at quarterback says a lot about the health of this program. 

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